The Yankees have had one of the best (if not the best) hitting catchers in the entire game in Gary Sanchez the past couple of years. Unfortunately, that was not the case in 2018. The 25-year-old dealt with a down year at the plate, and it was compounded by defensive miscues and injuries. This allowed backup Austin Romine to see some extended playing time and even gave Kyle Higashioka a couple of stays in the big leagues. Here are the grades for these three catchers in 2018.
Gary Sanchez: F
I was teetering between a D- and an F before ultimately deciding on the latter based on expectations. Unlike Greg Bird, Sanchez followed his strong cameo in 2016 with terrific production over the course of a full season. Following that, there was no reason to believe that the catcher couldn’t continue to produce at that level.
However, a .186 average to go along with 18 home runs and 53 RBI certainly did not make that so. His OPS dropped from .876 in 2017 to .697 in 2018. His BABIP was a putrid .197, well below league-average. He hit into a career-high 10 double plays albeit he only played in 89 games.
There were some reasons to think that he ran into bad luck here and there. He barreled up 13.9 percent of his batted balls, which was better than his 11.8 percent last year (which was top 20 in the league). His exit velocity at 90.2 MPH was also fairly in line with what is what last season. Lastly, his hard hit percentage was at 41.6 percent, not too far below his 2017 mark of 43.1.
Despite his mashing of David Price in Game 2 of the ALDS, Sanchez was not as advertised this year; yet it did not stop there.
His 18 passed balls were well ahead of everyone else in the league (next most was Sandy Leon and Martin Maldonado with 13) and he only played in 76 games behind the dish. There were also 45 wild pitches while he was catching. Those may not necessarily be his fault, but that metric ranked fifth-highest in the MLB. His throwing arm remained elite (averaged 86.8 MPH) and his pop time was also fairly decent.
If you want to look at the silver lining, he had six defensive runs saved, which would have placed him third in the league had he played enough innings.
All in all, the offensive and defensive struggles that Sanchez endured along with the injuries and occasionally hustle question makes his season more or less a failure.
Austin Romine: B+
Again, I am doling out the grades based on the player’s expectations. Romine is a backup catcher, and he was a solid one. Romine actually had a better bWar than Sanchez (1.4 to 1.2), filling in as the starter for stretches of the season when Sanchez was on the DL.
He set career-highs in HR (10), RBI (42), and OPS (.713). He was solid defensively, as he would have ranked third in the league with 7 defensive runs saved had he qualified. Pitchers seemed to love pitching to him, as he calls a good game and doesn’t get too many shake-offs. All in all, it was a decent year for Romine given his stature and place in the pecking order.
Kyle Higashioka: C+
It seems as if Higashioka has no path to the Yankees barring injury. Unless Sanchez flops again or is traded, both of which the Yankees are saying are unlikely, Higashioka will remain the third catcher and be the AAA starter. He did get some face time in the majors this year, playing in 29 games while Sanchez was on the shelf. His most magical run was hitting three home runs in four games, most notably his first career hit off of David Price and the Red Sox. That was about it, however. He went on to hit .167 in 72 at-bats and isn’t likely to see much playing time with the big club.